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Here’s What to do When Your Child has a Toothache

It’s Sunday evening at 6:00pm and your family just finished eating dinner. Your 8-year-old daughter, Ava, tells you she has a toothache and it hurts. What do you do? Keep in mind that it’s still the weekend and Ava has to be in school all day tomorrow.

Unfortunately, Ava wakes you up throughout Sunday night into Monday morning because of her pain. Now it’s Monday morning. What do you do?

Chances are, in this particular situation, you are going to call Ava’s pediatric dentist as soon as possible to get an appointment. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today—what to do when your child has a toothache, whether it happens throughout the weekend (when most pediatric dentist offices are closed) or during the week.

So please join us to learn how to best care for your young son or daughter when they’re experiencing a toothache.

How old is your child who’s experiencing a toothache?

First things first, how old is your child? This is an important first step in trying to figure out the root cause—what’s causing your child’s toothache? It might be more difficult to figure out a solution if you don’t understand what caused the toothache in the first place.

If he or she is a toddler, the toothache pain could be the result of teething and tooth eruption. The baby teeth (also called deciduous or primary teeth) begin to erupt through the gums during a process called tooth eruption. Once the teeth erupt, you’ll see them above the gum line.

Tooth eruption occurs when the child is a little baby, and then again in childhood and the teenage years when he or she loses the baby teeth and the permanent teeth erupt.

The teething phase starts at approximately 6 months old. By the time he or she turns 3 years old, you should be able to see all of the baby teeth when they open their mouth. And then any time after their 3rd birthday, the baby teeth will fall out and the permanent teeth will erupt.

So if your 2-year-old son has a toothache, it could be a symptom of teething and tooth eruption, considering the teething phase they’re in.

You see, your child’s age has a lot to do with the reason behind the toothache. Think about this first before figuring out how to take care of the aching tooth.

To help you, as parents or caregivers, figure out if a toothache is due to tooth eruption, you should be aware of other symptoms/signs of erupting teeth (you may see these other symptoms with your child in addition to a toothache).

Signs and symptoms of erupting baby teeth

  • irritation in the inside of the mouth
  • tender, sensitive gums
  • inflamed gums
  • difficulty eating or chewing
  • increased saliva production in the mouth (can lead to increased drooling)
  • loss of appetite
  • baby will frequently bite on objects (teethers) or fingers
  • agitation or crankiness
  • interrupted sleep patterns
  • redness on the cheek where the tooth is erupting

These are the most common signs of erupting baby teeth and the teething stage. However, if your baby has diarrhea, fever, earache, ear pain, or is vomiting, call your pediatrician right away.

How to relieve toothache pain associated with tooth eruption

If your son or daughter is experiencing a toothache and it’s because of tooth eruption/teething, there are some things you can do to help relieve the pain and discomfort.

Get a clean cloth and soak it with cold water. Give it to your child to suck and/or chew on it. Always do this under adult supervision to prevent a choking hazard.

Thoroughly wash your hands. Use your clean finger to massage the gum area where the tooth is erupting. This can help decrease the discomfort.

Buy a teether for your child. Biting on a teether can help decrease the discomfort. Don’t buy a liquid-filled teether and don’t tie the teether around your child’s neck (it is a strangulation hazard).

If he or she is constantly drooling, gently wipe the drool on a frequent basis to avoid skin rash.

Use children’s acetaminophen or children’s ibuprofen for pain relief, if needed. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the bottle. Do NOT use aspirin for kids. Before giving your child any medicine, make sure it’s okay with your pediatrician.

Use an anesthetic cream that can be bought in most pharmacies to relieve the toothache pain.

Things you should NOT do for your child during the tooth eruption phase

Now that we covered ways you can relieve toothache pain related to tooth eruption/teething, there are some things you should NOT do during this phase.

  • Do NOT be aggressive when brushing and flossing your child’s teeth and gums.
  • Do NOT pull out the loose tooth prematurely or wiggle it (just let it fall out when it’s ready).
  • Do NOT avoid taking your child to the pediatric dentist (visits should occur on a regular basis).

So now you know a few ways to relieve the pain, and you are also aware of a few things you shouldn’t do during the process.

But what if your child is 5 years old and they already have all of their baby teeth (and probably losing some baby teeth every now and then)?

What if your child complains (and rightly so) of a toothache right after youth basketball practice?

Could the toothache be related to a minor sports injury, to something he or she ate during dinner, or from flossing the wrong way?

What if your child’s toothache is more of an emergency rather than a normal life stage, like teething?

Emergency dental care for kids: Is your child’s toothache an emergency versus normal tooth eruption?

Let’s start out by saying it’s always best that your child be evaluated by a pediatric dentist, as opposed to making a diagnosis yourself.

Yes, we’re giving you a lot of information to help you decipher the underlying cause, but we’re doing this to educate you. We want you to understand the differences between some types of toothaches in kids.

So if your child is having a true dental emergency, call your pediatric dentist and schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

In the meantime, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, you can comfort your child by:

  • rinsing the mouth with warm (not hot) salt water.
  • giving over-the-counter kid’s pain medication (not aspirin) to relieve the pain.
  • applying an ice-wrapped cloth or a cold compress to the facial area where the pain is located.

(NOTE: If you are faced with a life-threatening emergency, call 911 immediately, or go to your local hospital emergency room.)

But how do you know whether or not the toothache is an emergency or if it can wait until Monday morning when the pediatric dentist’s office opens? We’re about to list some of the most common dental emergencies that kids can experience.

What is a true dental emergency for children?

The most common kid’s dental emergencies (but not limited to):

  • broken teeth
  • chipped teeth
  • cracked teeth
  • some types of severe toothaches
  • trauma/injury to the face/mouth
  • prescriptions for pain relief and/or antibiotics
  • tooth extractions
  • fillings
  • root canals
  • knocked out tooth
  • swollen jaw
  • fractured jaw
  • foreign object stuck between the teeth
  • sore mouth
  • soft tissue injuries

When your young son or daughter is in pain, we know you want to take away all of their pain as soon as possible. We understand that.

Committed to gentle pediatric dentistry when you and your kids need us most

If you live near one of our Dental Town pediatric dentistry offices, call us. We have offices in:

You can find details about each of our locations on this page.

Our contact information for each of the offices can be found on this page.

Our gentle pediatric dentists (Dr. Schwendiman, Dr. Hansen, Dr. Crosby, and Dr. Davidson) look forward to helping your son or daughter feel better without having to suffer with a toothache.